DEAR CAROLYN: You recently made an excellent point that the only one who can decide who someone dates is themselves. However, I am a woman with many male friends I won’t “allow” my sisters to date, and I would like to share that someone may have other reasons to step in. One is because my older sister dated a man I was friends with for five years before they met. When she broke up with him, he stopped talking to me. It was too painful for him because I reminded him of her.
The second is because although some are great to hang out with, I know more about these friends than my sisters do. They are NOT dating material. They treat me well, but their girlfriends, not so much. More of a maturity thing really.
So in a way it is protectiveness — not just of my siblings, but of my relationships with my friends. Shouldn’t I have a right to not want my family to date my friends so I don’t get caught in their turmoil?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: No.
Well — wait. You have a right not to want it, sure. We all have every right not to want things. I have a right not to want people to use apostrophe-S to make something plural. That doesn’t mean I get to edit peoples sign’s, Christmas card’s or mailboxe’s.
(Okay, I did once secretly Sharpie out a calamitous apostrophe on a friend’s knickknack. Sue me.)
Anyway. You have a right to want a certain outcome, but you don’t have a right to make decisions for other people to bend an outcome your way. Not even when your intent is to protect others and certainly not when your intent is to hoard friends for yourself.
What you can do is respect the boundary between actors and audience. For your friends’ and sisters’ romantic lives, or for any romance you aren’t personally in, you are strictly audience. You can offer warnings when needed and advice when asked, but otherwise take a seat.
Losing that friend over your sister’s breakup was hard for you, no doubt. But treating people like your personal marionettes, not the autonomous equals they are, makes you the one controlling, patronizing and ultimately alienating people around you — and the fallout from that hurts so much more in the end.
DEAR CAROLYN: My mom is pressuring me to tell her whether my husband and I plan to have kids. We don’t — he had a vasectomy before we met and I’m fine with that.
I’m a very private person and my mom has a long history of sharing my private information, including with my grandmother, who will give me a hard time for not wanting kids. I also object generally to social pressure to hit one milestone after another (“When will you have a boyfriend/husband/baby,”) and I feel like I feed into that by treating my decision as any of my mother’s business.
That said, I think she’s genuinely hurt that I’ve refused to discuss this and part of me thinks I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. What do you think?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: I think you have good cause not to fill your mother in on your family plans — and I think your not telling her has had the unintended consequence of making this an even bigger nuisance for you than it would have been if you had just told her upfront on your terms.
So you’ve made an even bigger mountain, I guess, out of a mountain.
Unhealthy dynamics promote dissembling where directness serves us best, unfortunately.
Please just tell your mother you don’t plan to have kids. It’s definitive, so you might as well put it behind you — plus you needn’t say why or entertain follow-up questions or stick around for anyone’s backlash.
Before you tell, though, I hope you’ll talk to your mom about your frustration with what you see as the milestoning to death of young … women? people? in this … family? culture? And when you’re asked these questions, you feel … diminished? bored? judged? as if your worth is being measured by standards you didn’t choose?
Say you’re particularly unhappy when your news is passed along to Grandma and then Grandma comes at you blazing.
You fill in the blanks yourself, obviously, with specifics on exactly what chaps you and why — but it’s an important exercise. This family dynamic bothers you and it’s affecting the way you interact with your mom, so at least give her the chance to understand. State why you haven’t engaged and will (if necessary) continue not to engage with her questions.
She might not budge, but you will know you made yourself clear. That in turn will help you make peace with it when, to hold your line, you need to hang up or walk away.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.